In accounts of violence, context is everything. For example: when Kathy Keller smashed plates with a hammer.
Kathy Keller once smashed plates with a hammer in order to get her husband Tim Keller to listen to her. She had been repeatedly telling him that he was working too hard and it was harming their marriage and family (see The Meaning Of Marriage (google books) and Christian Post interview with Kathy and Tim Keller).
Tim and Kathy tell the anecdote about how Tim was working too hard and ignoring his wife’s pleas to slow down. One day he came home to find Kathy smashing their wedding china with a hammer. This got his attention and he listened! They had a productive conversation and he changed his ways. Note: Kathy had only smashed the saucers which were already useless in that their matching cups had long since been broken.
I like the fact that both Tim and Kathy depict Kathy’s saucer-smashing as positive. But I don’t like the fact that they put no caveats in about domestic abuse. The lack of strong caveats shows that they either have little understanding of the dynamics of domestic abuse, or they simply prefer to avoid the uncomfortable topic…
The need for caveats when teaching about violence
Without proper caveats, that anecdote they gave is very dangerous. And I mean a caveat in the main text, immediately before or after the anecdote, not a footnote or an line item in appendix which many readers won’t read. Without a strong caveat, abusers will grab hold of an anecdote like that, especially when it comes from a celebrity preacher, and twist it to justify their abusive conduct. Tim Keller ought to have known this and said something very direct to make it hard for an abuser to use the anecdote as a license to smash stuff around the home on the pretext “he needs to get his wife’s attention” or “she needs to listen to him”.
The reality in countless homes around the world is that abusive men smash stuff because they believe they need to terrify their wives to ensure compliance and submission to their power and control. Domestic abuse professionals call this demonstration violence. A fair proportion of abusers use demonstration violence to intimidate their targets. It may not happen early in the relationship, but there is always a possibility that the abuser will add demonstration violence to his arsenal of abuse tactics.
Immediately after that anecdote, Keller ought to have outlined the key features of domestic abusers: their mentality of entitlement and their wicked misuse of power and coercive control. He should then have stated that because of these dynamics, domestic abuse needs to be addressed very differently from how we address normal marriage problems. Then he ought to have directed his readers to a list of the domains in which abusers can exercise power and control over their partners:– verbal / psychological, social isolation, financial, sexual, physical, spiritual and legal.
Why am I saying “he” here, rather than telling both Tim and Kathy what they ought to have done as co-authors? Because Tim is a complementarian, and last I heard, complementarian men are supposed to take the leadership in protecting women.
In the context of how Kathy had tried to caution and warn Tim about his overworking, and how he had not heeded all her verbal and diplomatic warnings, in that context, her breaking the saucers was a well-judged, prudent, creative, wise and godly thing to do. She’d probably carefully thought it through: how to get his attention so he would listen to her concerns and take them seriously and act on them.
But Kathy Keller (I assume) is not being coercive controlled by Tim and she is not at risk of him deciding he needs to smash stuff to intimidate her. Nor (I assume) is Tim Keller likely to use Kathy’s prudent and well-judged smashing of saucers as a ‘justification’ for him smashing whatever he wants to smash around the house whenever he chooses to.
And I further assume that Tim Keller probably won’t claim (like this guy does) that Kathy’s saucer smashing illustrates how evil feminism has invaded the church.
But it’s not good enough
To every man, especially men who have influence as complementarian leaders: it is not good enough to simply not be an abuser yourself. You need to take a pro-active and well-informed stand against abusers — and I mean REALLY well informed, starting with reading this blog — and whatever you write and teach you need to carefully take into account how abusers will try to twist it. And you need to ask yourself: “Might victims of abuse be loaded up with more false guilt by what I have said?” Thus you need to put in very clear strong caveats to ensure that
(1) abusive distortions are denounced before they get off the blocks, and
(2) victims of abuse will not be harmed by your teaching.
But why listen to me Tim Keller? After all, I’m only a woman…